Association Between Race, Gender, and Length in Sentencing of the Same Drug Charge

Source: Travisia Wyatt and Pamela Marshall, PhD , Forensic Science & Law Program, Duquesne University
Justice Talks

The inequality toward Black men in the United States justice system is a topic that has been studied for years with little to no reparation. Inequality occurs in the treatment of Black men during detainment, trial, treatment in prison, and the type of sentencing they ultimately receive. The injustice of African American men has been covered in media, and the public has made many efforts to bring it to light. However, their efforts fall on deaf ears as there is no statistical and/or scientific evidence to prove an association between race and gender, and sentence length, exists. Discovering the statistic and scientific value of the injustice of Black men in the American legal system is important in understanding how much of a difference there is between race and gender and finding a way to provide justice for all.

This research aims to shine light on the inequality of Black men in the federal justice system with sentence length of drug charges. The injustice can be seen specifically in the length of sentencing Black men receive compared to White men for the same drug charge. This research focused on Blacks and Whites, as well as females and males, incarcerated with any type of drug charge (i.e., trafficking, possession, etc.). Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics was gathered for fiscal years 2011-2016 and included average sentence length for Caucasians, African Americans, females, and males. The time span covering 2011-2016 was selected for this research as those were the years with available data. Additionally, an interview with an Allegheny County prosecutor was conducted. 

To complete this research, statistical processes were used to analyze the data and determine how much of a significant difference there is in sentence length. Black males were found to have a longer average sentence compared to White males, even though they were incarcerated on the same charge. A p-value of 2.303 x10-6 for White sentence length versus Black sentence length was found, as well as a p-value of 9.68 x10-10 for female versus male sentence length. This provided significant evidence that African Americans received a longer sentence compared to Caucasians, and males received a longer sentence compared to females. This evidence was supported through the personal interview whereby the belief that there is a statistical difference in the sentencing length for Black males compared to White males exists. This difference in value will spur on the need for change immediately in the legal system. These values can also add weight to the fight for justice of Black males in the legal system, allowing us to learn from our past mistakes and repair our future. 


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